Self-Awareness: The Essence of Effective Leadership

What constitutes effective leadership? When I explore this question I quickly get overwhelmed with the literature on the topic. There are plenty of authors and resources on the topic of leadership.

Constant in a lot of what I read is the role that self-awareness plays in effective leadership. Being aware of ones strengths, weaknesses, style, personality, preferences, etc., has a significant impact on how leaders behave and interact with others. Being self-aware, a leader can consciously influence the situation and the potential climate of the group. On the other hand, not being self-aware could lead to unwanted or undesirable consequences.

Over the years, I have observed or experienced leaders who have demonstrated self-awareness and leaders who have demonstrated their lack of self-awareness. When I think of self-aware leaders, I am reminded of experiences when the leader may have known what was needed to accomplish a task, but chose to work with the group and draw out the expertise within the group members. I recall another time working on a task with a group when the group really did not have the needed expertise and the very knowledgeable leader knew when to step in and provide that expertise. Then once the group or team was on track, the leader stepped back and let the group own the task.

On the flip side, I can recall being a part of a group where the leader needed to demonstrate to others that the leader was the person with the expertise. I recall how the members of the group, including me, felt about being involved in the group. I remember wondering why the leader didn't just complete the task and not take up the valuable time of the other group members. While this leader verbalized the desire for group involvement, the leader, due to lack of self-awareness, did not know how or when to step back and engage the expertise of the other group members.

The importance of self-awareness in leadership development is really highlighted by the work of Daniel Goleman. Goleman states; "Emotional intelligence- the ability to manage ourselves and our relationships effectively- consists of four fundamental capabilities: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skills." Also James Kouzes and Barry Posner, co-authors of The Leadership Challenge, reinforce the importance of self-awareness. Their research indicates that self-awareness and self-management are absolutely essential to authentic leadership.

These two authors, Kouzes and Posner, caution organizations about hiring the most talented and the brightest individual when they do not possess first the personal and social skills needed to be an effective leader. And the first step to obtaining these personal and social skills is self-awareness; the essence of effective leadership.

If you want to be an effective leader, study and learn about your best leadership tool; yourself. Reflect upon the impact your interactions have on others. Listen to the feedback others offer on your behavior and style. Ask for candid feedback on your leadership. Take every opportunity to conduct assessments of your personality and style through the use of valid instruments. Working to understand and develop yourself will pay huge dividends when you are put into that leadership role.

Until next time, make the best of every opportunity to become self-aware.